Mint.com feature suggestion

I was using Mint.com again today, as I decided that even thought it renames all of my electronically-paid bills to ‘BP’ there would still be some value in using it. The spending that really needs monitoring isn’t usually paid electronically, so the rest of the transactions that Mint.com doesn’t mostly misname are still intact.

Mostly.

Today I found out that handwritten checks get renamed to ‘View Image’. This is because the description that my credit union provides includes the phrase ‘View Image’, which is a link to the image of the check when I’m on the CU site. Mint.com decided to throw away the check number, which is the only piece of identifying information you usually get on handwritten checks.

So after nosing around on the Mint.com support forums I found specific instructions for filing a bug request when Mint.com misnames transactions, I decided to start filing bug requests for all these misnamed transactions.

Feature Suggestion

Mint.com, please add a ‘Report misnamed transaction’ button on your transaction view. Maybe to the edit details pane. Since you already have the transaction date, my account ID info, the name that Mint gave the transaction as well as the original statement text, it would save me from having to re-type all that info when filing a bug request.

Audiophile-quality micro system

One of the things I find I enjoy more and more as I get older is music. I never listened that much when I was younger, but now I find it’s a great escape. I discovered the bliss of in-ear monitors back in ’99 when I was traveling a LOT for work, and was using music to deal with the occasional bout of homesickness. My Etymotic ER4-S ‘phones were awesome even if they required an amplifier to get the best sound. It was ok – with a Creative Labs Jukebox, my HeadRoom amp and the Ety’s I was a happy camper.

Later on I got an iPod and later still I moved up to the Sure SE530 phones and no longer needed the amp. The sound & fit are stellar but with small children around the house wearing headphones that block a lot of sound isn’t a very good idea. A frustrated “help me!” call or crying child going unheard is not a good thing. Other than for running, headphones that don’t block sound just don’t make sense to me – if I’m going to hear background noise why not use speakers?

So I was trying to figure out how to put together a small, inexpensive, but nice sounding speaker system for the office and/or shop. I’ve got some old stereo equipment, but it’s a gigantic JVC multimedia receiver – about 18” deep. Not easy to find a home for. I also didn’t need the gazillion watts the old stereo was capable of. Heck, I probably wouldn’t need more than 5.

I thought about getting one of the iPod dock-plus-speakers appliances that a lot of folks are selling, but I don’t need portability and I wanted better sound quality and speaker placement.

After some thought and some reading I figured out that all I really needed was a dock for my iPod, a small amp, and some speakers. I have a set of old JBL 2500 book shelf speakers, and while not great they work for now. The dock was a small purchase at the Apple store. That left the amp.

I looked around a bit and after finding the Sonic Impact t-amp was getting rave reviews from audiophiles I got very interested – the thing is only $30 after all. Turns out that Sonic Impact developed a very cheap amp using a chip made originally for products like big-screen TVs. It is a special kind of amplifier circuit that’s very efficient and produces very little heat. The result is a small, inexpensive amp that has very good audio quality if not a lot of power – something like 10 watts per channel max, with about 6 being the limit for really good sound quality.

Unfortunately Sonic Impact realized the demand and improved the amp and raised the price. Others joined the fray with similar but better designs and the “Class T” audio amplifier market was born. There’s several models out there, and a few companies that offer kits. I think I will ultimately build on of the 41hz kits, but in the mean time I decided on the Trends Audio TA-10.1, which I bought from AudioMagus.com. The Trends is about twice the price of the latest version of the Sonic Impact amp, but it gets better reviews and the build quality (it’s in a metal case with high-quality connectors) was much better.

It’s pretty tiny and has only an LED and a knob on the front. It’s just a simple amp with 1 input and outputs for pair of speakers. Perfect.

So I have an iPod sitting in the dock, the dock connected to the amp which has its volume turned to max. I use the remote for the iPod to change volume, advance tracks, etc. The remote is small and simple and easy to replace if needed.

The sound is excellent at low volume and still pretty good with everything turned up. Something mentioned in every review of the amp was that speakers less efficient than 90db@1 watt would be disappointing and the JBLs are at ~86 so I will probably be replacing them soon. Still, for a system that takes up about as much space as a small alarm clock, and holds about 300 CD’s worth of music encoded in a lossless format, it’s pretty remarkable. If I need to move it to the patio or a different room it’s pretty portable.

Living with the iPhone iDrop

Susan got an iPhone first. She loves it more than any gadget she’s ever had. I have to admit I was jealous – really, I am the gadget master in the family and it didn’t seem right that she’d have a new gadget than I.

But I liked my Blackberry. It did almost everything I wanted, and it was a darn good phone to boot. Still, using the iphone convinced me that for portable internet there was nothing beating it. My resistance wavered and then completely collapsed.

I’ve had the phone for more than a month now, and while everyone and their brother has reviewed the thing I can’t pass up the chance to add my input.

So, how do you like it? Is a question you hear a lot when you use your iphone in public. Here’s my answer:

It’s like having the most beautiful, sexy girlfriend in the world, with the unfortunate habit of occasionally puking in your mouth when you kiss her.

What I love:

  • It’s a great little browser in your pocket. People bitch about it not having flash, but I don’t miss it.
  • Even if you have a poor connection (which is most of the time, see below) it will download voicemail so you can still get it.
  • It’s an iPod, albeit missing some features.
  • The screen seriously rivals paper. It’s that good.
  • The glass screen and overall build quality. No creaks, no fragility, just a solid gadget.
  • You Tube is far more fun than I ever thought it would be.
  • If you get a call while listening to music it will fade & pause the music when you answer, and unfade & restart the music when the call is over.
  • Even though it has no push email, IMAP email with Gmail is actually a better solution than Gmail on BlackBerry.

What I hate:

  • The iPhone hangs onto a call about as well as my 77-year old father hangs on to a greased pig. If you’re standing within site of a tower you have a chance. Otherwise, all bets are off.
  • That is, if you can get the call started in the first place. ATT seems to have simplified busy signals, disconnected number signals and call drops all into one “Call Failed” error on the phone.
  • The signal strength meter is more of an “estimated recent signal strength, sort of” meter. I’ve gotten and kept calls with one or even zero bars, and have also had calls drop unexpectedly with 5 bars. Go figure.
  • Bluetooth is a technology to be played with, not used. The relationship between my iPhone and my Jabra headset is more erratic than Brittany Spears relationship with reality. The two will spontaneously decide not to talk to each other and will need to be re-paired.
  • The glass screen provides zero tactile feedback, and is fairly picky about how hard you tap it before it considers it to be a “good” tap.
  • Occasionally my iPhone will take a nap like an old man dozing off in the middle of a story. Because you can’t tell this is happening until you’ve been tapping away at the screen trying to get it to work, when it wakes up there’s no telling where the game of iPhone roulette will end.
  • The iPod part of the phone doesn’t sync the skip count or last skipped data for songs. So, if you’re trying to make use of iTunes’ elaborate smart playlist feature to filter out songs you skipped through, you’re out of luck with the iPhone.
  • For whatever reason, my iPhone takes forever to find and connect to my home wifi network, and will never prompt me to connect.  It will often shows the signal strength as one bar, even when I’m standing next to my wireless access point. Other times it’s 5 bars on the other side of the house. This happens sometimes at other places.
  • Sometimes my iPhone will repeatedly and with great urgency ask me to connect to networks I don’t want to connect to.  We have wifi at work. It’s very locked-down and PDA’s are absolutely not allowed so I really don’t need my iPhone bugging me to connect. I really wish Apple would make an “ignore this network” feature, for places where there is wifi that for whatever reason will never be used.

Overall I like the device, but the relationship is love/hate.  That’s why I say it’s like having a fantastic girlfriend who barfs in your mouth – most of the time things are awesome, but when they go bad it’s such startling, frustrating experience it has me emotionally gagging on the phone.

Let’s hope the new iPhone 2.0 software coming in late June (I’m expecting late July) will tip the balance a bit.

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible aka Metro

Whew! For a company who’s other products have names like C-Ruck, Gator, Air Boss, and Chica, that’s a real mouthful. Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible. It’s also a pretty nifty briefcase.

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

I received mine a few days ago, and have even had a chance to try it out. I got it in Saffron, both to match my Air Boss, and to help thwart any theives out there. It’s hard to sneak when you’re carrying a bright yellow object.

I agonized a bit over the size. I’ve got a Travelpro laptop bag that measures 3.5″ wide, and it is too small. It’s able to hold the usual amount of paper I’d carry, but forget putting a computer, or any of the usual other junk like a small camera, iPod, notebooks, etc. I also got a Tumi 6″ expandable, which is the exact opposite. I’ve actually gone on overnight trips with just it, with a spare shirt, underwear and toiletries without even expanding it. Of course, when it’s less than full it’s a floppy mess, and not very easy to zip open or closed.

I wanted something in between. I wanted something big enough to hold my computer, some legal pads, a folder or two, along with a host of small items. Maybe also a birding guide, and a small binocular. I kept wondering if the regular briefcase or the slim was what I wanted. I decided to err on the small side, and I’m not disappointed.

I had considered Tom Bihn’s Empire Builder and Zephyr, which appear to be a better value, but both have things I didn’t like.

  • First, they have flaps covering a large open pocket on the front, with zippered pockets on the flap. Those kinds of pockets are great for really small stuff, but they tend to make the flap heavy, which makes it a pain to get into the large pocket under the flap.
  • That flap has a buckle, the mating half of which will dangle because I will mostly not buckle it, which will annoy me.
  • Second, they have the shoulder strap connections on opposite sides of the bag, which tends to hold the bag shut while it’s on my shoulder. The Red Oxx design tends to hold the bag open, and I prefer that because I can always zip the bag shut.
  • They’re an inch taller than the Red Oxx, which is wasted space for the things I carry.
  • They do sell colors, but it’s really a black bag with a colored flap.
  • The Empire Builder is 7″ wide, the Zephyr is 6.3″ wide. Both are really too wide for me.

Still, they’re only $10 or so more than the smaller Red Oxx, but have more padding, more zippable pockets, splashproof zippers and a few other features. I decided I wanted the size, color & features of the Red Oxx.
As I said, I’ve had a chance to play with it, and even use it a bit. Here are my observations:

  • It’s 3.5″ wide, same as the travel pro, but Red Oxx’s bag is 3.5″ on the inside. That extra inch is huge in a bag this size.
  • The inside dividers are covered with pockets – more than you can use. It’s also got slightly over-sized pen holders – large enough to hold screwdrivers or a tire gage.
  • The outside pockets are narrower than I thought they’d be, although the snap is on a strap (see the photo) so you can both fill them up and close them more easily. I think they’re too narrow, but I suspect they’re the same pockets you’d find on their Gator bag, which is smaller. They’re big enough for 2-3 pocket Moleskine notebooks, plus a small item like a deck of cards.
  • The padding is a great idea. It really helps give the bag shape, and it makes it much better behaved when standing. Yep, the bag will stand, you don’t have to lay it down.
  • The handles are curiously long. On my Air Boss they’re so short that if you over stuff the bag at all you cannot get the handle wrap to snap shut. I actually like that feature because I don’t like floppy handles. They catch on things and hang over the opening. I’m surprised they’re so long on this bag.
  • I haven’t used the outside zip pockets, as they’re suited mainly to flat items like air tickets or a magazine or two. But there’s one on either side, with heavy dual zips.
  • The water bottle pockets are thankfully not too baggy and have tight enough elastic to keep small items from falling out. I know that many people must have water bottle pockets, but after the DHS outlawed an entire phase of matter I decided that since water is available pretty much everywhere I go, usually for free, I would stop hauling around a bunch of extra weight. So if I must have water bottle pockets on my bag, it’s nice to be able to use them for something else.
  • The red interior helps make it easier to find things.
  • I like the fact that the zippers don’t go all the way around. I used to carry a Lands End briefcase that would zip flat. One time I hooked the zipper (that case had big metal hoops on the zippers) and dumped most of the contents all over a factory floor.
  • It has the standard “Claw” strap that hangs on like it’s glued to your shoulder.

The construction is as expected – heavy duty. I especially like large zippers, as the small ones on my Tumi, while “self healing” have to heal themselves pretty much every time I zip the bag around the upper corners. Heavier zippers are more tolerant.
Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

For a “Slimline” bag this case holds quite a bit – there’s room for more, although it would start to require taking things out to get to other things. If I was a student or someone who had to haul a lot of binders, I’d definitely get the regular size that’s 7+” thick, but with what I need today, it’s a great fit.